Three stark, politically critical dynastic differences between Jeb and Hillary

The 2016 Clinton and Bush presidential candidates have families in the business, but that background helps one and hurts the other.

Some complain a possible Hillary Clinton-Jeb Bush match-up would repeat two families too much, even calling this a clash of dynasties. Others see this background positively, in that the 2016 would have a greater sense of the job as president. Call that experience by proxy.

But these two families are not politically equivalent. There are three significant differences.

Those differences could have consequences should these two face each other in the presidential contest.

1. Difference one: Bill Clinton is seen favorably. George W. Bush is seen unfavorably.

Check out this graph based on a recent CBS/New York Times poll.

Bill Clinton is in blue and George W. Bush is in red. You can see that Clinton has stronger favorable ratings and George W. Bush has stronger unfavorable ratings.

Data from CBS/New York Times Poll, April 30-March 3, 2015

Data from CBS/New York Times Poll, April 30-May 3, 2015

The image tells the tale, but here are some numbers:

  • Overall, Bill Clinton is seen favorably by 50% and unfavorably by 23%. Among Independents, 44% see Clinton favorably, 23% unfavorably.
  • Overall, George W. Bush is seen favorably by 30% and unfavorably by 46%. Among Independents, 25% see Bush favorably, 46% unfavorably.

Difference two: The Clinton economic record is far better than the Bush economic record.

One likely reason why President Clinton is seen so much more favorably than President George W. Bush is because Clinton’s economic record was so much better.

Under Clinton, the economy grew faster and unemployment was lower.

As USA Today notes:

One of the highlights of President Clinton’s presidency was the economic boom that occurred during his time in office. Unemployment was 7.3 percent when President Clinton took office, and fell pretty much consistently to 4.2 percent by the time he left. Inflation averaged about 2.5 percent during the Clinton Administration. Real GDP growth averaged about 3.8 percent during his terms in office.

When President Bush took office in January 2001, unemployment was just 4.2 percent. However, come 2009 the financial crisis was already having its way with the economy and unemployment had surged to 7.8 percent. It’s worth pointing out that before the crisis took hold, unemployment climbed only as high as 6.3 percent. Inflation averaged 2.84 percent and real GDP growth averaged 1.6 percent during his presidency.

While George W. Bush had a net positive GDP increase of 1.6 %, this is what the change in Gross Domestic Product under George W. Bush looks like:

Screenshot 2015-05-11 16.26.56                                                                                     [Chart via Washington Post]

Of course attributing responsibility for economic matters is complicated, but voters often see the president in office as largely responsible for the economy. And the crash at the end of the Bush administration made quite the impression.

Difference 3: While Hillary Clinton is backing away from elements of her husband’s presidency that aren’t all that popular, Jeb Bush is doubling down on the very unpopular policy of his brother’s presidency — the Iraq War.

On the Clinton side, Hillary Clinton recently gave a speech that raised concerns about the high levels of imprisonment in the United States, an outcome in part based on what President Bill Clinton did.

As one commentator noted,

The speech was hailed as significant for a number of reasons. For one thing, it confirmed that, 21 years after her husband signed a bill making the criminal justice system much more punitive, Clinton has definitively come to the conclusion that the nation’s out-of-control incarceration rate is a problem that needs fixing.

After that, Bill Clinton weighed in on the issue, saying that, in retrospect, his policy went too far.

The problem is the way it was written and implemented is we cast too wide a net and we had too many people in prison,” [Bill] Clinton said Wednesday. “And we wound up…putting so many people in prison that there wasn’t enough money left to educate them, train them for new jobs and increase the chances when they came out so they could live productive lives. [source]

On the Bush side, Jeb Bush has stayed close to George W. Bush on foreign policy, including the unpopular Iraq War.

According to a January 2015 piece in Politico:

While George W. Bush’s poll numbers have risen since he left office, public opinion about his 2003 invasion of Iraq hasn’t budged. A mid-October NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 66 percent of of those surveyed believe the Iraq War was “not worth it.”

Moreover, Jeb Bush has said he would look to his brother to advise him on the Middle East.

And, regarding the Iraq War, in answering a question, “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion,” the former Florida governor said, “I would have.”

Bush later said he was answering based on what was known before the Iraq war started, but, as the below graph suggests, even that is politically problematic.

NBC/WSJ poll. Graph via Talking Points Memo.

NBC/WSJ poll. Graph via Talking Points Memo.

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.